It wasn’t the homecoming the Winnipeg Jets were hoping for, nor were their guests all that generous on this evening.
The Jets returned to Bell MTS Place following an impressive five-game road trip, on which they won four games, including a convincing 5-2 victory over the first-place Toronto Maple Leafs Thursday to cap off the trip. Whatever momentum had been earned came to a screeching halt Saturday, as the visiting Edmonton Oilers blanked the Jets 3-0.
Tyson Barrie broke up a scoreless game in the second period, while Jesse Puljujarvi and Alex Chiasson added goals in the third period to round out the scoring. Connor McDavid continued his scorching pace against the Jets, recording two primary assists, and now has at least two points in each of the seven games against the Jets this season. Leon Draisaitl also finished with a pair of assists.
It was the second time this season the Jets have been shut out, with the other a 4-0 loss to the Vancouver Canucks on Mar. 1, also at home. Mike Smith recorded 26 saves for his third shutout in 2021.
"When you give them the power-play opportunities and let them work that puck around, especially with McDavid and Draisaitl there, they’re going to make you pay," Jets centre Mark Scheifele said after the game. "So it’s one of those nights. You can’t dwell on it too much. We’ve got a little bit of a break here to get our bodies feeling good so we’ve got to use this time to our advantage."
The Jets dropped to 27-15-3 with the loss, snapping a two-game win streak in the process. They don’t return to game action until Thursday when they welcome the Maple Leafs to town for the first of back-to-back games. The Oilers improve to 26-15-2 with the victory, and are now three points behind the Jets for second place in the North Division, with one game in hand.
The Oilers seemed to have a distinct advantage heading into the game, given they were coming off six days of rest and were likely still had a chip on their shoulder after losing 5-0 to provincial rival Calgary Flames last Saturday. As for the Jets, they had Friday off following five games in the previous eight nights.
Such is life in the NHL, especially in a condensed schedule this season owing to COVID-19. It’s the same for all teams.
"You can’t blame anything on that. Obviously it’s tough coming off long road trips and finding your legs, but I thought early on we had some good jump. They did a good job neutralizing it, playing tight defensively and we weren’t able to capitalize on our chances," Jets centre Adam Lowry said. "They ended up scoring a big power-play goal and that seemed to give them a little more life and take a little bit of wind out of our sails. Obviously they had their legs but I don’t think it’s one that you can blame our effort on being tired or anything like that."
The Jets did come out with a jump, but that energy developed into few scoring opportunities. In fact, according to Natural Stat Trick, the Jets only had one high-danger scoring chance compared to 14 for the Oilers.
After a scoreless opening 20 minutes, Barrie converted a one-timer slap shot off a pass from McDavid that beat a screened Connor Hellebuyck low at the 12-minute mark of the second period. The goal came on the third straight power play for the Oilers, this time with Neal Pionk in the penalty box for hooking.
Puljujarvi made it a 2-0 game 6:37 into the third period, after he found himself wide open in front of the net. McDavid fed him a pass and Puljujarvi made no mistake, firing a shot top shelf over the glove of Hellebuyck for his 10th of the season.
The Oilers put the game away a short time later, scoring again on the man-advantage, with Chiasson redirecting a shot from Barrie to make it 3-0. Hellebuyck, who finished with 22 saves, had little chance.
"Good-structured team and they looked pretty tight in their own end tonight. I don’t think we were where we needed to be to test them as well as we’d like to test them," Jets coach Paul Maurice said. "I didn’t think we had a lot going on up front offensively, but it wasn’t a brand new team that we saw tonight. They’ve got some things that they’re good at."
With such a close race near the top of the standings, it’s looking more and more likely the Jets and Oilers are destined to finish second and third in the Division, which would mean a first-round meeting between the two clubs.
The Jets fared well against the Oilers early in the season, taking two of the first three games, with the lone loss a result of a last-second goal by the Oilers. The Jets scored a combined 15 goals in those games.
It has been all Edmonton since, with the Oilers winning four straight games against Winnipeg, all coming in regulation. What’s worse, the Jets, who are usually capable of filling the net on any given night, have just five goals in those four losses.
"I think the games are going to get tighter. I think that’s what’s gone on. We come in off the first one back to back and then go into that, the March run there that we had, and I liked our games in there. They were tight but I liked our game. I thought we had jump," Maurice said.
"Where I thought the game turned tonight was we end up six minutes in the penalty box and we do a good job on the kill but we’re running those guys… like Lowry’s line did a great job tonight. I thought we spent a fair amount coming into this so I didn’t think we had that sharpness off transition to get into holes to make plays. They played a good, hard game. They looked rested, they looked focused. I didn’t feel they generated anywhere near the offence they had against us in the previous low-scoring games. But we’re going to get to a point in the season here, and it’s coming soon, where offence is not easy and you’ve got to be a good defensive team.
"I’m not going to spend a lot of time over the next two or three days trying to get ready for the next Edmonton (game). We will get ready for Toronto coming in here. We’ll get a couple of days of practice, Blake (Wheeler) comes back in, play with our lines a little bit more and then use these next five games to really ramp up."
After a slew of injuries playing hockey that included breaks to the wrist, arm, and collar bone; a tear of the medial collateral ligament in both knees; as well as a collapsed lung, Jeff figured it was a good idea to take his interest in sports off the ice and in to the classroom.